Pronoun question

9 Sep

Fill in the blanks with the most appropriate first-person singular pronoun:

  1. “They enjoyed you arguing in favour of it and ___ against”
    1. I
    2. me
    3. my
    4. mine
  2. “They enjoyed your arguing in favour of it and ___ against”
    1. I
    2. me
    3. my
    4. mine

Question #1 is easy: it can only be option #b.

Question #2 is hard. I guess it has to be #d. Right?

J. K. Rowling’s international pseudonyms

2 Sep

As every schoolchild knows, Joanne Rowling adopted the pseudonym J. K. Rowling because her publisher worried boys would not read a book if they knew the author was female. At some point I learned that Harry Potter’s German editions are credited to “Joanne K. Rowling”. What about editions in other languages? The following provisional data is from the names of the articles about Rowling in all language versions of Wikipedia that have such an article. The source is the Wikidata page that centralises all these.

  • J. K. Rowling:- Aragonese, Basque, Bikol Central, Breton, Chinese (Min Nan), Croatian, Danish, Dutch, Esperanto, Estonian, Extremaduran, Faroese, Finnish, French, Galician, Greek, Icelandic, Ido, Iloko, Indonesian, Interlingua, Irish, Italian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Northern Sami, Norwegian, Norwegian Nynorsk, Nāhuatl, Occitan, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Scots, Serbo-Croatian, Sicilian, Slovenian, South Azerbaijani, Spanish, Sundanese, Swedish, Tagalog, Turkish, Uzbek, Vietnamese, Waray, Welsh, Western Frisian
    • Transliteration/nativization of “J. K. Rowling” (e.g. “Dž. K. Roulinga”, “Џ. К. Роулинг”, “J·K·罗琳”):- Arabic, Assamese, Bangla, Cantonese, Central Kurdish, Chinese, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Japanese, Kannada, Korean, Latvian, Macedonian, Maithili, Malayalam, Marathi, Nepali, Persian, Punjabi, Serbian, Sinhala, South Azerbaijani, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, Urdu, Yiddish
  • Joanne Rowling:- Asturian, Catalan
    • Transliteration/nativization of “Joanne Rowling”:- Amharic, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Belarusian, Bulgarian, Czech, Georgian, Kazakh, Latin, Mingrelian, Mongolian, Russian, Slovak, Tajik, Tatar, Turkmen, Ukrainian
  • Joanne K. Rowling:- Albanian, German, Luxembourgish, Quechua
  • Joanne Kathleen Rowling:- Bosnian, Hungarian, Javanese, Malay, Venetian
    • Transliteration/nativization of “Joanne Kathleen Rowling” :- Sakha

Saint Patty’s Day

8 Mar

Every year in the runup to March 17, Irish people express annoyance when Americans write about “Saint Patty’s Day”. The focus of the ire is the spelling “Patty”: Ireland recognises only “Paddy” as the hypocoristic of “Patrick”, while “Patty” can only be a pet form of “Patricia”. Wikipedia informs me that there are in fact males called “Patty”, allegedly most often in Australia; perusing Wikipedia pages whose titles start with “Patty”, I find males Patty Obasi (Nigeria), Patty Ginnell (Canada), Patty Mills (Australia), and possibly Patty Kane (USA — has a redirect but may not actually be called that).

I have some sympathy for the Americans, many of whom flap intervocalic /t/ (thus pronouncing “Paddy” and “Patty” identically) and can be forgiven for preferring the spelling with T, given that the full form is “Patrick” rather than “Padrick”. Irish people can also flap /t/:

  • “Proddy” is a somewhat derogatory abbreviation of “Protestant”
  • I personally pronounce the first t in “potato” as /d/ and the second as a /t/ (the latter a voiceless alveolar non-sibilant fricative, what Gay Byrne deprecates as a “whistling T”).
  • I suppose “Paddy” itself originates from the same flapping (though Pádraig, the Irish for “Patrick”, is born with a D).

The continuing distinctness of “Patty” from “Paddy” shows flapping is not as systematic or widespread in Ireland as in America.

“Saint Patty’s Day” is sometimes shortened to “Saint Patty’s”, which I suspect grates even more with those Irish who choose to be grated with. The Irish shortening is “Paddy’s Day”, sans “Saint”. Abbreviating “Saint X’s Day” to “Saint X’s” (as opposed to “X’s Day”) strikes me as American. Caveats:

  • like most Euro-anglophones, my default assumption is that anything I’ve only just noticed in English must be recently arrived from America
  • the only values of X that spring to mind are “Patrick” and “Valentine” (Though abbreviating “New Year’s Day” to “New Year’s” rings the same bell).

“Paddy’s Day” may also be spelt “Paddys Day”, signifying “the day of the Paddys” (i.e. “the day of Irish people”, reclaiming the ethnic slur “Paddy”) as opposed to “the day of Paddy” (a rather impious way to refer to the patron saint).


17 Aug

The word “outspoken” is of the same category as “well-spoken” and “softly spoken”; one of those odd adjectives where a past participle is used where a present participle would be more logical. In Logical English, a well-speaking person speaks well, a softly speaking person speaks softly, and an outspeaking person speaks out. Another verb with a similar adjective is (well-)behaved. Related are (well-)read and (long-)lived (if you pronounce the i as in “living” rather than “alive”)  but those have a sense of accomplishment which makes the past tense relevant.

I  used to think there was a verb, to “outspeak”, which was transitive: if I outspoke you, it meant I had beaten you in an argument. People described as “outspoken” tend

  1. not merely to proclaim their views without fear
  2. but also to hold unpopular views.

When I first read about people satisfying (1) and (2) described as “outspoken”, I guess I imputed meaning (2) instead of meaning (1) to the word. But whereas (1) has positive connotations of bravery and vision, (2) has negative connotations of contrarianism or eccentricity. For how long did I  misinterpret a journalist’s description of the  “outspoken” subject as blame instead of praise? Somewhere in my mid teens, I’d guess.

Turns out, there is a verb “outspeak”, which can mean either “speak out” or “speak better than”. My early self is vindicated. I would would hesitate to use the verb now, though: I might well be misunderstood.

Heads or harps?

25 Oct

When I was a child, my father when tossing a coin would call “heads or harps” rather than “heads or tails”. Up to 1823, Irish coins had the king’s head on the obverse and the (crowned) harp on the reverse, so “heads or harps” made perfect sense. Then British coins took over and the harp disappeared for a century. When the Irish Free State introduced its own coins in 1928, they had an (uncrowned) harp on the obverse, and various native animals on the reverse. So the call ought to have been “harps or tails”, but instead “heads or harps” made a comeback. I guess the animals all had heads, but then they all had tails as well.

The Dictionary of Newfoundland English records “heads or harps”, obviously imported from Ireland.

Proxy apologies

22 Nov

Stan Carey is blogging about that justly condemned act, the non-apology. In 2009, Geoff Pullum described Gordon Brown’s apology to Alan Turing as “a real apology for once”. I don’t think it’s quite as simple as that. Here are what Pullum calls the “operative words”:

on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan’s work I am very proud to say: we’re sorry, you deserved so much better.

In my opinion, you can’t be proud while making a personal apology. You can be proud afterwards, of having done the decent thing; but the act itself is a moment of humility, not pride. Congratulating oneself for one’s magnanimity would ipso facto negate that very magnanimity.

The reason Gordon Brown can state his pride is that it is an impersonal apology. He is not apologising for something done by him, or on his behalf, or even on his watch; he is apologising on behalf of a system which he is now a part of, for an act done by that system before he was a part of it. The expression of pride is actually a clever (cunning, even) way of distancing himself personally from the act. Brown’s apology was real, but it’s not a model for a celebrity who needs to tweet an apology for a previous offensive tweet. Brown’s was a proxy apology, whereas Kanye or Malky’s apology must be personal.

The 2009 apology seems like a win-win situation for Brown: he gets the kudos for apologising, without the guilt of having been wrong in the first place. So why don’t political leaders routinely apologise for all the mistakes made by their predecessors (at least those from a different political party)? One reason is that diminishing returns would soon set in. But in addition, an official apology might be evidence that would stand up in a court of law when deciding how much compensation to pay the wronged party. So even impersonal apologies can be non-apologies. “This government regrets that the actions taken in good faith by a previous government following the perceived best practice of the time have subsequently turned out to be a catastrophic failure.”


25 Oct

NOOB (Not one-off Britishisms) asks UK residents how they pronounce “negotiate”: ending shee-ate or see-ate. I am an Ireland resident, but I’m answering for myself. And I’ve considered all words in -ciate, -tiate . I’ve arranged them in order.

Definitely -s-

Probably -s-

Either -s- or -sh-

Probably -sh-

Definitely -sh-

Now -sh- once -t-

The last section is book-words where I would have guessed -t- as a spelling pronunciation. Interesting that neither -s- nor -sh- appears to be my default for novel -tiate words.

The above rankings are by no means definitive (even for me, I mean; let alone anyone else) and I’ve shuffled them several times in the 20 minutes I’ve spent writing this.

The Irish alphabet

26 Nov

Stan Carey has a post on ‘haitch’: a mainly Irish pronunciation of the name of the letter H. I have heard local pronunciations of other letter names in Ireland. In all cases it is the vowel in the name that is at variance.


Letter R with the NORTH vowel instead of the START vowel. This is widespread; I am unable to categorise the distribution other than to report that I have witnessed Irish people mocked by other Irish people for using either vowel. Perhaps “Cawstle Cawtholic” is involved. I notice RTE presenters in the last 10 years seem to have shifted more to the START vowel when saying the station’s name.


Letter A with the PALM vowel instead of the FACE vowel. This I associate with Irish-speakers, like my Mammy, for whom the A.B.C. is the /a: bi: si:/. Although Wikipedia notes distinct Irish-language names for all the letters, I’ve never heard them. Except for A, Irish speakers seem to use the English names: e.g. TG4 is called by its own presenters “[tiː dʒiː] ceathar”, not “[teː geː] ceathar” or “[tiː dʒiː] four”.


Letter Q with the STRUT vowel instead of the GOOSE vowel. This is a nonstandard Cork pronunciation.  The same Corkonians pronounce the strong form of the preposition “to” with the same vowel, so it is never homophonous with “too” or “two”. Perhaps it is from the same motivation as “dubya” for “double-you”, mentioned below.


The other letter names mostly don’t vary.

The letter Z, of course, has different names in Britain and the US; Ireland tends to follow Britain, though I suspect that “zee”, like many US forms, has more currency in Ireland than England. I learned the alphabet rhyme with “…double-U, ex, wye and zee” but even then I used “zed” in other contexts.

The letter W is sometimes “Dubya”, as in the rustic Murkin nickname for George W. Bush, but in Ireland I’ve more often heard “dubbleya”, where only the final vowel is reduced, with the middle syllable preserved. Maybe this is the same as the process where final unstressed -o is reduced to schwa in nonstandard speech (so “tomorrow” rhymes with “Gomorrah”) though of course the final vowel in the name of W is the vowel of GOOSE, not GOAT. More likely it’s identification of the unstressed schwa with the stressed STRUT vowel. In the same way, there are Americans who have STRUT rather than FLEECE in the strong form of “the”; although in that word, in my experience, Irish speakers are more likely to have DRESS than STRUT.

Name abbreviations in the Irish phone book

20 Oct

At languagehat 10 days ago, dearieme asked “When last did you see those old abbreviations for Christian names: Wm, Thos?” and I answered, “They were used in Irish telephone directories into the 1990s.”

Since then, I have cracked open a white-pages for the first time in a long time, and found that in fact such abbreviations are found in Irish phone books to this very day. However, they are now intermixed with the full forms. I checked the 2013 book for 02 (that’s nought-two the digits, not O2 the cellphone company), the area-code approximating County Cork. I checked the surname “Murphy”, the most common surname in Ireland (and originally a Cork name) to see what the stats were for various forenames:

Short form Long form Short count Long count
Cors Cornelius 6 10
Danl Daniel 11 23
Edwd Edward 8 5
Geo George 3 0
Jas James 26 21
Jerh Jeremiah 17 13
Jos Joseph 7 8
Mgt Margaret 4 17
Mce Maurice 6 1
Ml Michael 53 70
Patk Patrick 50 47
Richd Richard 5 13
Robt Robert 1 7
Thos Thomas 12 5
Wm William 22 22

I exclude hypocoristics like “Will”, “Joe” from the above table. Some abbreviatable names were only listed in full form and not in abbreviated form (again, excluding hypocoristics like “Art”, “Bart”): Anthony (9), Arthur (3), Bartholemew (1), Benjamin (1), Bridget (3), Christopher (6), Desmond (5), Nicholas (2), Oliver (5), Raymond (4). I don’t know if any of these were formerly abbreviated.

I surmise that abbreviated forms are no longer being added; as new subscribers are enrolled, and existing subscribers die off or move to a new address and get their entry updated, the full form is replacing the abbreviations. I don’t know when this changeover began. It would be too dull even for me to seek out old phonebooks to scrutinise. I recall c.1995 the format changed so that the surname is listed only at the top of the column or when it changes; a ditto dot is used for subsequent entries of people with the same name. Maybe the forename abbreviations were phased out at the same time.

Based on the preceding surmise, one might estimate how old-fashioned a name is by the proportion of abbreviated forms: older people move house less and so have had the same number and phonebook entry since before the changeover. However, this is not a reliable calculation. Consider Margaret, the only female name listed, and one that strikes me as old-fashioned. I surmise most of the Margarets are not young women with the name, but rather the widows of men who died after the changeover. Also, where do hypocoristics fit into these ratios? Some at least of those listed under “Tom Murphy” are “Thomas Murphy” on their birth certificate.

Let’s know

18 Jun

I’ve recently heard English people saying “let’s know” rather than “let us know” in sentences like “let’s know how you get on”. Traditionally, “let’s” occurs as an abbreviation of “let us” only as a form of first-person-plural imperative; or suggestion equivalent to “why don’t we…” But not any more. Web searches for “let’s know” throw up lots of false positives from South Asian English, where “let’s know” seems to mean “let’s learn about…” in self-instruction manuals, guidebooks, etc.